It makes you feel depressingly old when younger people start retiring. I don’t think I should watch the conga line of jockeys emerging from the weighing-room any more for fear of who might be missing.
Michael Hills was recently a bad sport, announcing he was packing up just at the time we knew which one he was, as identical brother Richard was no longer an inhabitant of the jockeys’ quarters.
Most perplexing though is the chatter about the futures of Frankie Dettori and Kieren Fallon, the dominant figures in the saddle for much of the last two decades.
Frankie’s association with Camelot in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe had been interpreted by some as professional suicide in the Bois de Boulogne, an act that could only accelerate Sheikh Mohammed’s apparent inclination to use younger jockeys. It seems the predictions were correct on this occasion.
There has been no talk from Frankie about ending his career, but now he’s like a man on a tea tray pushed from the top of the stairs. It’s going to be near impossible to stop the slide.
And then there is Kieren, who takes far more positions in conversation than he ever does on the racecourse. First came a conference announcement seemingly referring to his career in the past tense, hastily followed by a retraction and pledge that he was still committed to his profession, duly winning the Cesarewitch on 66-1 rag Aaim To Prosper to prove the point.
It seems odd to even contemplate racing without Kieren Fallon. It would be like The Silence Of The Lambs without Hannibal Lecter. This is a man who has seamlessly mixed the black with the golden, riding for just about every champagne outfit around while making a Horlicks of his life out of the saddle. He has been, and still is, box office.
When he does not have this riding outlet for his energy and aggression it is difficult to imagine how Kieren will cope
I’ve always liked Kieren from the day he granted me interview time at his home in Dalham just after arriving as stable jockey to Henry Cecil. He was refreshingly free of artifice and explosively critical about jockeys I’ve already mentioned (he rang up later to ask if I minded leaving those bits out).
Then, and probably now, he considered himself an outsider, someone who could respond only in the language of riding racehorses. “I switch completely when I go out to ride in a race and I always go through a race before I ride in it,” he said. “I’ll know the sort of race the other jockeys will ride and I’ll be out there stalking my prey, watching who is travelling the best.
“When I started at Kevin Prendergast’s [in Ireland] the head lad told me the whole game is a rat race, with people stabbing you in the back and trying to cut your throat and only the biggest rat will win. He was right.
“The jockeys all have a laugh and a joke and a drink and party together. John Egan and Jimmy Fortune are my best friends and then there’s Lindsay Charnock and John Carroll [now retired], but when we’re out there, there’s not a chance in hell we’re worrying about each other. We’re out there to finish in front.
“When you’re in a race, and especially when it gets tight, you’re out there for yourself and you don’t give a s**t who’s besides you, whether they go down or stand.” I think I made my excuses and left after this bit.
When he does not have this riding outlet for his energy and aggression it is difficult to imagine how Kieren will cope. It was jarring to hear him talking about a training career, even if rumours abound that he has already invested in premises.
Champion jockeys – at least those of recent times – do not make great trainers. Pat Eddery has his successes at Musk Hill Farm and Michael Roberts has made a go of it back home in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Both can be considered more collegiate than Fallon.
Kieren might today want to be a trainer, but others need to want you to as well.
He’s probably better off sticking at the day job, because of all the scenarios you imagine for him, the hardest one to bring to mind is Kieren sitting behind a walnut-paneled desk, drawing up the staff rota and checking the vaccination log book.